Tuesday, May 30, 2006

this has been one hell of a day

Tuesday is about to roll over and make room for Wednesday. In terms of job-related stress, today was nothing. But I couldn't help noticing the convergence of three overlapping negativities: suicide by jumping off a building, breakups with Significant Others, and people going nuts.

Shawn Matthews killed himself by leaping off the top of his apartment building in China. Matt B., in an email about the KrayzeeGrrrl, noted that a guy had recently jumped off a building in Kangnam last week. As with Shawn's and KrayzeeGrrrl's situations, this guy had suffered a breakup. Perhaps Matt is right and KrayzeeGrrrl has made a conscious or unconscious decision to retreat from the behavioral norm. At least she's not suicidal (or so I believe; I was obviously wrong about Shawn, whom I considered relentlessly optimistic).

My advice to people who might be contemplating suicide:

Don't kill yourself, asshole.

There's a good, practical reason for this: suicide is messy, especially if you're throwing yourself off a goddamn building. Maybe you think I'm being humorous, but no-- I'm again in a reflective mood this evening, and like Jake of Mei Shi (China Vlog), I am keenly and angrily aware that the consequences of suicide fall not just on oneself but on those left behind.

As I said, suicide is messy. Consider that before you off yourself. Someone will have to scrape you up off the ground. Or find your purple, bloated body in the living room or bedroom or bathroom or wherever the hell you are, hanged or drugged. Or find your body, your shotgun, and what's left of your head inside a garage or toolshed, then spend time scouring the walls and floor (and maybe even the ceiling) to get rid of all the skull fragments and pieces of brain. Unless you drown yourself in the ocean or blow yourself up with dynamite, trust me-- you'll be leaving a mess for somebody else to clean up. And if your body is halfway intact given the method of suicide you choose, keep in mind that your sphincters will let go at death and it won't just be blood and brains and bone that people will have to deal with.

Suicide isn't just physically messy; it's psychologically messy. In the wake of your death will be a lot of people wondering what they must have done wrong that you should feel so alienated, so hopeless. And they'll never know the real reasons. Even if you leave a suicide note, your departure from this plane of existence won't prevent people from engaging in morbid speculation about all the would-haves and could-haves. Your suicide is likely to cause a ripple of depression in others, and because death is irrevocable, your decease will forever be a scar in their lives. Now, thanks to you, they will have the dubious honor of trying to figure out how to reconcile themselves to a loved one's death-- an exercise that, by rights, should be unnecessary in the course of normal human existence.

If you refuse to think about these things, or if you consider them and then dismiss them, understand that you're a selfish, selfish fuckhead. Suicide happens when people feel-- rationally or irrationally-- that their personal horizon, the scope of their freedom, has narrowed so that only one course of action remains in view. In almost all cases, this conclusion is wrong. Things change. Darkness gives way to dawn. The stream of life flows ever onward, so why not remain a part of it for as long as you can? Don't force the rest of us to scrape up and cart away your dead ass.



  1. In the words of Edgar Rosenberg, the late husband of Joan Rivers (who ultimately killed himself), "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." I'm not sure of ol' Edgar originated this bit of wisdom, but unfortunately he did not seem to think much of his own advice.

  2. After reading your last post, I went over to the Mei Shi site and posted a comment of my own. Then I read this post, and it's pretty much what I said, just expressed more elegantly. Agreed on all points.

  3. "By rights" is an expression meaning "properly speaking," or "in the ideal."

    Example: "By rights, this dog shouldn't be eating dinner at the table with us. Shoo him away."

    In that paragraph, I wasn't saying anything about human rights, per se. I was saying that, ideally, people shouldn't have to go through such a painful exercise (i.e., wrestling with the suicide of a loved one). When someone commits suicide, that's what s/he forces loved ones to do.

    Actually, "human rights" are, in my opinion, a human construction. They aren't guaranteed by anything but the agreements we make among ourselves. I suppose I'm a bit of a Hobbesian on that score. This doesn't mean human rights are an illusion, but it does mean they exist only insofar as there are human brains to harbor them, and human-made laws to instantiate them.


  4. If I may clarify...

    Yes, the "ideal" part makes all the difference. You could rephrase it this way: "In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to go through such horrible and unnecessary events." Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world. To say that someone has a right not to experience said events, though, is much different.

    If you wanted to boil down the essence of the difference between these two phrases, I suppose you could say that "by rights" indicates what would happen in a perfect world, whereas "I have the right" indicates what should happen in an imperfect world. I realize that I risk accuracy by trying to be clever, but there you have it.

  5. Charles,

    Thanks; that's a good clarification. By rights, I should have said that to begin with.


  6. i do agree that (his) suicide should not happen in a society. However, you should also respect his decision, as it ultimately is HIS decision what to do with his live. i am sure he did think about what he was leaving behind ... his friends ... his family ... and whatnot. still past events obviously were so desperatly, that he saw no light at the end of the tunnel. come to think, what he have been through, if the bits and pieces about his past that leaked on KLB and CLB, was not a piece of cake. And don't compare your ordinary parenal divorce with a suicide of your father.

    bottom line:
    you shouldn't blame anyone about this. niether him nor yourself. There is little or nothing you could do to prevent this. also, shawn most probably had little or no means at all to prevent his suicide. don't you think he would have done things another way if he would have known this would keep himself from jumping?

    really ... beeing unrespectfull "after" people are dead, i can't take.

  7. jacen,

    Honesty is not disrespect.

    I'm a bit confused as to what you're asking me to do: you seem to be saying Shawn couldn't help what he did, but you also ask that I respect his choice, which implies he could have done otherwise. Which is it? Was he or wasn't he free to act?

    Here's how it breaks down:

    1. If Shawn was free, then he was accountable for his actions (i.e., people can judge what he did).

    2. If Shawn wasn't free, then he wasn't accountable for his actions (i.e., it would be unfair to judge him).

    Let's assume Shawn was free to do as he did-- a human being with the power of choice. Let's further assume that people should be free to make their choices without being questioned, because questioning their decision somehow implies disrespect. Is this a consistent position?

    Here's a hypothetical:

    Your 20-year-old daughter decides she wants to date a satanist, do hard drugs, and act in porn movies. Should you say anything? Why? You're only her father and she's legally an adult (in the West, anyway)-- what possible say can you have in what she does? It's her life, her choices! Who are you to judge, Dad? She should just go have fun, yes? Live the dream while she's young! AIDS, physical abuse, and emotional trauma-- those are all problems for later! An open-minded parent respects his 20-year-old's wisdom!

    My point with the above example isn't that Shawn's friends could have done more. I agree with you that they shouldn't blame themselves because, yes, ultimately, this was Shawn's decision. But "responsible" means "accountable," i.e., Shawn can be judged for his actions-- or more precisely, Shawn's actions can be judged. This is entailed in what "responsible" means. Concerned people make such judgements all the time, and all it proves is that they're honest, not that they're disrespectful.

    Think of it this way: if Shawn's friends had had a clear idea that he was suicidal, do you think they'd have praised his decision to kill himself? I doubt it. I'm sure they'd have done their damnedest to talk him out of it. They would have said suicide was wrong, that it was not the way to go; they'd have told him to think about the good things in his life, and what he meant to other people. In other words, they'd have judged suicide in exactly the same negative way I've done.

    I hope that's clear.

    I appreciate your point of view, even though I respectfully disagree. However, I don't appreciate being lumped with the people who have gone out of their way to badger Shawn, his girlfriend, his friends, his family, etc., using violent and abusive language.

    You need to make your own position clearer, jacen. I think that, fundamentally, you believe that Shawn had no choice, and so it's in poor taste for me to judge him because he was helpless. I might disagree with that point of view, but I can respect it more. Please clarify if this is what you really intend.

    Me, I see Shawn as having had a choice. He was a free, adult human being; his actions therefore can merit praise or blame. I respect Shawn's power of decision, but I don't respect the particular decision he made to kill himself. Some sort of mental illness may have been a factor; Shawn's father committed suicide, which implies that Shawn may have inherited a similar predisposition (cf. Ernest Hemingway and his father). But Shawn made choices, there's no denying it-- including the choices of time, location, and method of suicide. He's not free of the yoke of responsibility.

    Again, jacen, thanks for your opinion. I've seen your comments on other blogs (esp. Nomad's), and I think you're a kind soul. Believe it or not, I take your displeasure seriously, and respect your good intentions. I certainly hold nothing against you for venting displeasure about how others are reacting to Shawn's death, but please try to see that, ultimately, we're on the same side.


  8. "Your 20-year-old daughter decides she wants to date a satanist, do hard drugs, and act in porn movies. Should you say anything? Why? You're only her father and she's legally an adult (in the West, anyway)-- what possible say can you have in what she does? It's her life, her choices! Who are you to judge, Dad? She should just go have fun, yes? Live the dream while she's young! AIDS, physical abuse, and emotional trauma-- those are all problems for later! An open-minded parent respects his 20-year-old's wisdom!"

    if she would have already moved out, and standing on her own feet, you said it:
    "who the hell am i?"
    of course i would offer her my point of view, but if she takes the advice, is truly up to her.

    there is a flaw about you analogy though ... my imaginary daughter would be alive, i could talk to her, like i said offer her my opinion ... non of this applies to shawn.

    in my view, shawn was so broke to begin with. he did have support, at least it looked to me that jake was a really good friend to him. if thats not enought to keep him from doing it, then what is?

    and yeah ... you are right.
    my post earlier was a bit diffuse. i do believe that he had no choice. i do believe that if he would have seen even the slightest sense in living on (and by that i don't mean avoiding trouble for his friends and relatives) he wouldn't have done it.

    i've seen friends do really stupid things, not because the were not aware of consequences, but because, in their view, it was the best way. can you really say that you know shawn better than himself, and therfore claiming that he shouldn't have jumped? i can't. and i doubt you can.

    sry about beeing rude or anything. im no native speaker and have troble finding the right words sometimes.

  9. jacen,

    Thanks for your comment.

    re: my "daughter" analogy

    We both agree that the 20-year-old daughter can make her own choices. Do we agree that the father is free to judge those choices according to his own set of values, and further, that he's allowed-- as a father-- to make his opinion known to his daughter? This is essentially what I and others have done in saluting Shawn and condemning suicide. I would gladly have condemned suicide before Shawn killed himself, had I known what was going to happen. As it was, I was rather late in finding out about Shawn's death. Many of us were.

    You're right: the hypothetical father can have a discussion with his daughter, whereas no one can with Shawn. But in Shawn's case, there was even more of a need for people to step in-- not merely offer their opinions-- had they known more about Shawn's emotional distress. Shawn chose not to reveal that distress to the world, and even though he offered strong hints of it to his closest friends (and, perhaps, his family), those hints weren't strong enough for the friends to know they needed to act right away.

    re: Shawn having a choice or not

    Thank you for making clear that you think Shawn had no real choice in the matter. I have to ask you what you asked me:

    "Can you really say that you know Shawn better than himself?"

    You're in the same position I'm in: neither of us knows.

    My negative judgement of suicide is not meant to be a blanket condemnation of a person's character, nor is it meant to oppugn a person's lifelong history of decisions and actions. Shawn brought a lot of good to the world through his writing, and I respect him for that. He made many good decisions. Killing himself wasn't one of them, and that's obvious from the effect he's had on the people who have come to know him (or who thought they knew him).

    I have trouble with Shawn's suicide because I see so many other possible outcomes, so many ways to avoid making other people suffer, and I don't see him as having had no choice, no matter how much distress he was in. I suppose you and I will have to leave it at a gentlemen's disagreement.

    re: being rude

    No apology necessary. I do understand your feelings about this situation, and your English is just fine. I wish my Korean were that good.


  10. Kevin, did you get my comment? I commented a few hours ago, but I don't see it.


  11. Hmm, since my question got posted, I'll re-post my last comment:

    I just found out about Shawn last night. I keep imagining him jumping off that building. I keep picturing myself holding him back, telling him that we'll get him back to New York to see him family and get some help. I feel like I've lost a friend, although we'd never met.

    I understand your frustration. I really do. But after reading Jake's description of his last days, I had these thoughts...

    -It seems Shawn was going to through an acute depressive episode. He wasn't eating or sleeping well, if at all. Not sleeping really messes with your system and can exacerbate depressive symptoms.

    -He didn't have good anti-depressants available, so he was self-medicating with alcohol, which is not uncommon with depressives. Again, alcohol is a "downer" and exacerbates depressive symptoms.

    -No, suicide is not logical, but Shawn was not in a logical state of mind in his last hours. He wasn't well enough (physically or mentally) to think logically.

    You said that it was selfish of Shawn, because he didn't think of the impact that killing himself would have on those who loved him.

    But suicide happens because the person CAN'T visualize the pain it would cause others. It's not like they're not trying or that they're selfish; it actually takes a lot of brain power to plan for the future, empathize, rationalize one's choices, etc. It's not that Shawn didn't try; his depression wouln't let him.

    Depression fogs your brain.

    It upsets me that he was so anguished that he felt there was no choice but to die, and that we weren't there to help him... But I didn't't even know him!... So why am I crying?... Ugh, I'm so confused.

    Thanks for letting me vent on your blog. I guess a part of me wants you to go a little easy on Shawn. (I know, it doesn't make any sense... I don't know you or Shawn and you have every right to feel what you feel.) But major clinical depression and suicide attempts have hit very very close to home in the past. I've seen it. It ain't pretty.

    Anyway, thanks again. Peace.

  12. Terri,

    I'm guessing your comment got eaten by the Blogger demons, which are always hungry. I don't think I ever saw it, so I'm afraid you'll have to repost it.



  13. Terri,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I've seen a few theories, now, about what state of mind Shawn was in. One theory by Brendon Carr (over on the Marmot's blog) is that Shawn was bipolar. This sounds more or less consistent with your own surmise. Perhaps Shawn was bipolar. I don't know.

    I don't condemn Shawn as a person, but I also don't see suicide as the right course of action, except in a few limited cases.

    Depression might cloud one's brain, but even depressives have to take that important first step-- themselves-- toward healing. Choice is always fundamental to the path that leads lifeward as well as to the path that leads deathward. No one can reach inside the depressive's mind and telepathically push him to do what's right. Shawn is, in my opinion, still responsible for his actions. He had the choice-- the chance-- to reach out, and he didn't do so. All the sadder for those close to him.

    So please understand that I am "going easy" on Shawn. I certainly don't think he's going to hell for what he's done (well, to be honest, I don't believe in hell). I agree with everyone who has expressed, in one way or another, the idea that he has somehow "found peace," or has at least found escape from his torment. I disagree, though, with any school of thought suggesting this was either right or proper. The damage done by such an act makes that attitude appalling.

    I talked a bit about Shawn's suicide with one of my Korean students this morning (Wednesday morning, I mean). Our talk branched out to suicide in general, and my student mentioned that, back when she was depressed about not being accepted to the college she wanted to go to, she saw news of another student's suicide and thought about doing the same thing.

    That's one of the many, many pernicious effects of suicide: the risk of copycatting. Suicide causes far too many problems for me either to praise it or merely "respect" it. I gladly salute Shawn's life, and acknowledge the big and little things he did to make other people's lives gladder and easier. Unfortunately, life is a lot like a classical music performance: what people tend to remember most is how strongly or weakly the performance finishes. Shawn's symphony, alas, ended in cacophony.

    And it didn't have to.


  14. "My negative judgement of suicide is not meant to be a blanket condemnation of a person's character, nor is it meant to oppugn a person's lifelong history of decisions and actions."

    thx pointing that out.
    and you are also right.

    however, i don't wanna argue about it anymore. what he did gave me strength when i needet it the most, thats all i need to know now.

  15. Well, PETE, years have gone by and I just wanted to tell you how deeply I appreciate your intelligent and insightful comment.

    Yes: Shawn's life was his own, and as I've stressed several times in this thread, he was responsible for how he used or abused it. You seem to be suffering the same confusion as an earlier commenter, who wanted to believe that Shawn both was and wasn't in control of his actions. Which is it, PETE? "It was his life" (i.e., Shawn was free to do with it what he wanted), or "Those who commit suicide are not 'free'"?

  16. Just thought about Shawn Matthews and came across this posting. Like many, I didn't know him personally, but somehow felt attached to him. Even now, 10 years after he left us, I kind of miss him and his blog. His Korean Life Blog was not only entertaining, but also - along other factors - inspired me to visit Korea. Unfortunatly I never met him, when I visited Korea for the first time in 2004. I wonder how he would feel about today's Korea? I just returned for a a few months stay and wonder myself about the rapid changes... It has changed a lot during the last 10 years.

    By the way, for those who would like to reread his blog, most parts of his blog are in the internet archive, even though many pictures are missing. https://web.archive.org/web/http://korealife.blogspot.com/

  17. Thanks, Anonymous, for your thoughtful comment. I don't normally allow anonymous comments, but I though this was good enough to let slide. You're here for a few months? Well, then, I hope you enjoy your stay. I hope you toast Shawn at least once during your visit. My impression was that he was a good fellow.



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